United Airlines apologizes again

CHICAGO - United Airlines apologized to its top frequent fliers Thursday for the thousands of delays and cancellations this summer by awarding them bonus miles for the rest of the year.

It's at least the third time in the past two weeks the world's largest airline - plagued by stormy weather this summer and acrimonious relations with its pilots - has thought it necessary to soothe angry travelers.

''We certainly want to recognize our customers for their loyalty through these difficult circumstances and also be flexible in our policies,'' said United spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch. ''We realize that we need to reach out to our customers in any number of ways and this was just one of the first steps.''

United has delayed and canceled thousands of flights this summer due to bad weather and a labor dispute with its 10,500 pilots. The airline says the pilots have refused to work overtime since their contract came up for renewal in April and have increasingly been calling in sick.

The pilots' union admits some pilots are refusing to work overtime but denies there is any organized job action. It argues that United is short-staffed and ignored warnings of an impending pilot shortage.

Under the plan announced Thursday, United's ''Premier'' members, those who fly 25,000 miles a year or more and normally receive a 25 percent bonus on actual miles flown, will be given a 50 percent bonus on miles flown, retroactive to May 1.

''Premier Executive'' fliers, who put in 50,000 miles annually, and ''1K'' customers, those who fly more than 100,000 miles a year, will see their mileage bonuses doubled to 200 percent in the same period.

Lori Fox is a United ''Premier Executive'' member who flies between Chicago and Manchester, N.H., twice a week. This summer has been ''the worst I've ever experienced,'' she said.

''Up until this point they've been sending these really lame apologetic letters. I've gotten at least four,'' Fox said. ''I'm excited to hear about (the bonus miles offer). I love to get miles and take advantage of it. My boyfriend and I take vacations with those.''

United also announced some benefits for its regular passengers, waving the $75 service fee for changing plans on flights before Sept. 30. There are some restrictions.

The top 9 percent of United's customers - frequent business travelers - generate 46 percent of the carrier's revenue, the company said. United has about 38 million Mileage Plus members.

Meantime, UAL Corp., the parent of United, announced that it expects third-quarter earnings per share to be lower than the $2.60 to $3.20 range it announced last month.

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